Art Heyman, the only Long Island basketball player selected with the first overall pick in the NBA draft -- by the Knicks in 1963 -- died Monday night at his Central Florida home. No cause of death was released.
"Art Heyman was a wonderful player, and an idol to many of us who were playing basketball in the 1960s," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. "Obviously, he had a huge impact on Duke basketball and was truly one of the elite players to ever wear a Blue Devil uniform."
At Duke, Heyman was a three-time All-American, who was named the NCAA Player of the Year in 1963, a season in which he was the captain of the Blue Devils' first Final Four team.
Heyman averaged 25.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in his three-year Duke career and is one of 13 players whose number has been retired by the school.
He played the first two of his six professional seasons with the Knicks and was named to the NBA's All-Rookie team.
At 6-foot-5, he was also one of the elite players in Long Island high school basketball history, leading Oceanside to the Nassau County championship in 1959.
"He could do anything on the court," his high school coach, Frank Januszewski, 84, told Newsday Tuesday.
"He was a very good shooter, an outstanding rebounder and he drove very well to the basket. What I liked most was that he always followed his shots. He was very dominating."
Heyman's basketball accomplishments are often overshadowed by his participation in a notorious brawl with former high school rival Larry Brown, a star at Long Beach High School and the University of North Carolina.
Heyman was already vilified by North Carolina fans, players and coaches for reneging on a signed letter-of-intent to play for the Tar Heels. Januszewski related that Heyman's stepfather had been feuding with UNC coach Frank McGuire and refused to let his son attend that school.
The fight, on Feb. 4, 1961, began after Brown reacted to an ill-timed hard foul by Heyman in the closing seconds of what would be a Duke victory by throwing the ball and a punch at Heyman, who retaliated with a punch of his own. Both benches emptied and fans poured onto the court, joining the fray. Many punches were thrown and it took nearly a dozen policemen to break up the melee, which resulted in Heyman getting suspended for the rest of the season and likely costing his team the Atlantic Coast Conference title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
"They started the fight!" Heyman told Neil Best of Newsday in 2009, acknowledging his relationship with Brown was "not close" though they were civil to each other in public. "It's weird because Larry always says in the paper that I started it. He threw the ball! It was all Frank McGuire just building up the emotions. Oh, how they hated me!"
No funeral arrangements were announced.